The cost of artificial playgrounds
Oct. 3, 2016
by Ivan Raconteur

I sometimes wonder how long it will be before humans are unable to survive outside an artificially-controlled environment.

The thing that set me off this time was reading about a local park board that is recommending spending $14,655 of taxpayers’ money to install canvas shades over playground equipment in one of the city’s parks.

Heaven forbid the little angels should be exposed to sunshine.

I might also point out that if we weren’t in such a hurry to cut down all the trees to make room for development, we might not need to create artificial shade.

I am well aware of the danger of excessive exposure to UV rays, but you can buy a lot of sunscreen for $15,000.

This is just the latest step in a trend that started years ago when someone decided kids can’t just go out and play anymore – they need to be confined to engineered play systems that costs tens of thousands of dollars.

I have no argument with the people who design and manufacture this stuff. It is a free market, and if the people forking over the taxpayers’ money are foolish enough to spend it on this kind of thing, the companies are perfectly justified in scooping up the profits.

This is great training for the kids. Instilling in them the values of engineered plastic play palaces early will make them easier marks when we try to sell them on the “need” to build billion dollar play palaces for professional athletes later on.

It all fits together.

I’m waiting for the day when concerned parents won’t let their little tykes out of the house without an oxygen mask to make sure they don’t accidentally breathe any fresh air.

It saddens me to think how times have changed.

I recall the way things were when I was very young, and we visited grandma’s house.

My sister and I played in the sandy soil of the driveway with nothing but a bucket and a big spoon. Not a spoon purchased for the purpose, by the way, just a big old spoon from the kitchen.

Some days, if we were lucky, we could get a bucket of water, too.

Our playground equipment consisted of a swing made from a board and some rope fixed to a tree branch. We didn’t need an engineer to figure that one out.

We explored the gardens and the raspberry patch, and walked down the road to throw rocks in the river.

Back at home, we played games from dawn to dusk with hordes of neighborhood kids.

We didn’t need adults to organize our games or act as officials. We agreed on our own rules, and negotiated their enforcement.

We talked to each other and used old-fashioned diplomacy to decide what games we would play.

We ran around in the sun and the wind, and sometimes even the rain, and loved it.

If the day was hot, we took breaks in the shade of the trees. They didn’t cut down all the trees in those days, so there were plenty to choose from.

Not only did the trees provide shade, they provided a place to hang out. Trees were the original playground equipment, and climbing them was something we learned early.

Sitting in the branches of a tree, we could imagine we were scanning the ocean from the rigging of a pirate ship, or fending off invaders from the parapet of a castle.

I don’t recall any of my friends ever falling out of a tree, but if they had, we would have looked at it as a lesson in the power of gravity.

We wouldn’t have blamed it on someone else; we would have used it as a reminder to hold on tighter next time.

There were parks in our town, but we rarely bothered to go there.

We had plenty of fun places to play.

Yards were things we used then. They weren’t maintained solely for the sake of appearances.

We ran around in the woods, climbed rocks, and swam in creeks and ponds.

We weren’t afraid to go outdoors, and we learned to live with the environment that was there.

We didn’t expect the taxpayers to constantly be spending money to entertain us or engineer play spaces for us.

Something tells me if places like that had been available, my friends and I would have avoided them, and instead organized games of our own somewhere else.

We grew up using our own imaginations, not those of some adult, and that was how we liked it.

The cost of engineered play spaces with artificial shade is more than the expense to taxpayers.

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